The dancers perform in their own styles to introduce themselves to Ameriker

By Meredith Hoffa
June 28, 2012 at 08:25 AM EDT
Adam Rose/Fox
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Big Night, everybody! Tonight was jam packed: We met our Top 20, celebrated the 200th episode of the show, and saw several routines that already have the glow of potential bests of the season.

Plus Cat is back! Enough of those city-to-city auditions where she’s relegated to lurking in lobbies. Let the lady host! And speaking of Cat, was that glitter dress not bonkers? To me it felt half Dynasty, half ice-skating outfit. Still, though, she was resplendent. Truthfully, Cat can do no wrong, frockwise or otherwise.

Zooey Deschanel joined as a guest judge despite the fact that this evening’s show was touted as as one free of judging, but no matter — Fox has shows to promote, and, anyway, I was curious to see how much Jess Day is in Zooey. Would she be adorkable? I was interested to get a bit of a sense of what Z.D. is like as a person, bangs aside. I dig her show.

So. No time to waste! Let’s talk about some of the highlights from tonight’s exciting episode.

First up, they grouped some contemporary dancers together to receive the first results of the evening. First up was Alexa Anderson, whom the judges appeared to have forgiven completely since Vegas week for not being a more gregarious personality. She is IN! George Lawrence II, whom Debbie had referred to as child in ATL (“That child is fierce!”) (swoon), was next. Since it was Debbie delivering the news, I had high hopes for another child utterance but was denied. “You are in the top 20, my dear,” she said. This child is IN! Will Thomas, an extremely tall L.A. auditioner whom I’ve never seen in my life, and Amber Jackson, a 3rd-time auditioner, are also IN!

Side note: I was so relieved to see Joshua Alexander sitting there in the Anticipation Room. He seemed totally fine, thank god, but I was hoping and expecting that someone would address the incident, since the last time we saw him he was unconscious and being carried away on a stretcher while witnesses wept. I thought his injury was alarming enough that it deserved a mention/brief explanation at the top of the show. Right? I’ve been worrying about him all week, but no one’s gonna tell me what happened?

The first four Top 20 inductees performed a TyceKeith routine that was perfectly fine. Everyone looked good, but my favorite part of all was that cool-ass jump Amber did right into George and Will’s arms. Give me people leaping into other peoples’ arms all the time! Even though tonight was a judging-free zone, Nigel had some comments: Will may be tall, but he needs to make sure to move as fast as the little people move. George shone. Amber was ugly when she said she’d give up on SYTYCD and never come back, but now look how pretty she is. And Alexa brought it in the facial department! Zooey said “You’re all so great it’s hard for me to think of anything to say,” which basically would turn out to sum up her role as judge for the evening. And I don’t mean that in an unkind way, it’s that she didn’t offer too much in the way of comments aside from encouragement and support, which are not nothing. It is quite possible Z.D. said even less than Katie Holmes did as guest judge last season. But like I said before, who cares. It was a non-competing evening and she wasn’t there as a dance expert.

NEXT: An awkward threesome

Next on the chopping block were the three ballroom dancers. Nick Bloxsom-Carter was a crying maniac until TyceKeith gently comforted him by sneering “You’re in the top 20 so stop crying and congratulations!” Ballroom besties Lindsay Arnold and Witney Carson walked the green mile together as predicted and Adam was all over the fake-out, muttering “This totally makes me sick.” Because a friendship is going to be broken up. Because they’re just looking for one ballroom girl. And… it’s going to be Witney. Witney’s IN. But…surprise! It’s *also* going to be Lindsay! Lindsay’s IN!

The trio performed a Jason Gilkinson ballroom routine to JLo’s “Dance Again.” Technically it was superb, and the ladies — especially the explosive Witney — looked amazing, but I have to say, these three-person ballroom pieces always make me giggle; the awkwardness quotient reminds me a little of the 2-on-1 dates they do on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. It always seems like one person is left out in the cold and is like hey let me in! But it wasn’t awkward to Mary, apparently, because she gave them a ride on the hot tamale train (even though Witney is already on it and Lindsay is already half on it).

The next grouping was comprised of Eliana Girard, Daniel Baker and Chehon Wespi-Tschopp, i.e. our classically trained/ballet peeps. Eliana came out first and I just love her. The pole dancing, the on-the-ground dancing, but also just that smile. So warm. Plus she’s just got a classy way about her. “It’s about what you show, not what you say,” she said tonight, in reference to what, exactly, I can’t remember, but I couldn’t agree more. Fake-out fake-out fake-out and she’s IN! Obviously.

Then, Daniel and Chehon. Surely there’s only room for one of them in the Top 20. Both boys are nervous because both have put their lives on hold to be part of their show. They’ve given up so much and if they don’t make it, things will be up in the air. At this point I’d just like to take this opportunity to say how silly and tiresome it is when when contestants on reality/competition shows talk about how they’ve put their lives on hold to come on the show. Stop it right now! Inevitably it sounds complain-y and like a weird kind of threat. Just quit it. Guess who’s put their lives on hold to come on this show, you guys? All the contestants. All of them. So. Moving on. Daniel made it because he is consistent. But… fake-out fake-out fake-out… Chehon made it, too, because he gave them a moment. They’re both IN!

The two men and Eliana do a Desmond Richardson/Dwight Rhoden routine and it’s brilliant. I love the futuristic aluminum foil tutu on Eliana and shiny pants on the guys. Eliana has star quality.

NEXT: Personality counts

The jazz contingent was comprised of Tiffany Maher, whom I *think* I’ve seen before in tiny glimpses, Audrey Case, and Janelle Issis. Audrey was pessimistic about her chances once Tiffany was IN because they’re both jazz dancers and they both have wavy brown hair, but it turns out she was IN, too! Janelle, who apparently sailed through every round in Vegas, is IN and, as such, is the first bellydancer ever to be in SYTYCD’s Top 20. Janelle’s excitement caused her to whip her face into a door frame, and frankly I could watch this clip 20 times over.  Janelle turns out to be sick for the live show (although did you notice that she seemed to be kind of like hunh? when Cat said the doc had asked her to sit out this week?) so she’s not a part of the Sonya routine, but the other two girls rock it out. I tried to keep my eye on Tiffany because I’ve never seen her dance, but I kept being drawn to Audrey. I think. It was really hard to tell them apart.

A couple “no”s to some early favorites like Joshua Alexander, Jasmine Mason and Megan Branch of the doe eyes. I only wish we’d seen more of Vegas week to know why these decisions were made. I am still unsettled about Danielle Dominguez‘ fate. I half expect her to be brought back onto the show and for Nigel to apologize for his egregious error.

Next, another handful of contemporary dancers got their results. Matthew Kazmierczak, the Ryan Gosling lookalike, and Dareian Kujawa, of the adorable face and bricks for feet, are both IN, and Dareian wins wins the night for cutest dance/prance of happiness. Janaya French, whom I have never seen before (and apparently the judges also didn’t really notice themselves until deep Vegas) is also IN. Nigel thinks she’s the whole package. So the final girls’ spot was down to Amelia Lowe and Jill Johnson, whom people might remember from the quick snippets we saw of her at the SLC auditions. Unlike Amelia Lowe, Jill sailed through Vegas week, but the judges said they want star quality, so gamine silent film star wannabe Amelia is IN. Not quite sure how I feel about that. Amelia’s a great dancer. But Jill, it seemed, better tackled the challenges of Vegas week overall. In the end, though, Amelia’s definitely a character and I guess if you’re making television you go with the great dancer who’s also got a shtick. It’s just hard to lose a contestant who did (or seemed to do) everything right – and who just may happen to be less of a Big Personality. I’m curious to hear what you guys think.

Amelia, Dareian, Janaya and Matthew performed a Stacey Tookey piece during which Amelia did a supercool leap through air into Dareian’s arms.  “Delicate,” Z.D. called the piece. Yes. “Like watching a painting.” Yes, again.

The final group down the green mile was a miscellaneous crew of guys. First there was martial artist Cole Horibe who is IN! Stepper Brandon Mitchell is IN! And, finally, there was just one more spot to be filled. Would it go to animator Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer or hip hopper Feliciano Turk? Well, let’s see: Feliciano glided through Vegas week, mastering every style. Glitch had problems in just about every round, but saved himself by dancing for his life in his own genre. So, the last spot goes to… Glitch. Glitch is IN! I have mixed feelings about this one, too. On the one hand, I’m rooting for the guy. He’s immensely likable, and when he performs in his genre he’s unreal. But Glitch really struggled throughout Vegas, and the central challenge to this particular show is picking up new choreography week after week after week. I wonder what it will be like to partner with him. And I wonder what it will be like to choreograph for him. As Nigel said, the choreographers have their work cut out for them and will hopefully figure out ways to make it work. Of course, Glitch will be a pleasure to have around. And dance-wise, he brings something new to the show. But if you’re Feliciano (who I knew would lose to Glitch, considering we’d seen nothing of him up until now), it must sting when you know you’re the better all-around dancer.

NEXT: Beasts and blood

The three guys do a Christopher Scott baseball dance that let each dancer shine in his own style. Plus, breaking bats over knees! Mary let out an old school woooo! and of course couldn’t resist an opportunity to exclaim that the trio “hit that out of the ballpark.” wah wah.

I love how excited Nigel gets about National Dance Day. July 28. Get your legwarmers ready.

The top 10 girls (nine, really, since Janelle wasn’t dancing) performed a Travis Wall routine about walking through a gateway into the afterlife. The single prop was a doorway, and the stage was lit in such as way as to create a beautifully haunting vibe. Ethereal, I was thinking, and then Cat said just that word, proving we are best friends. I also loved the girls’ wood nymph dresses.

Top 10 guys performed a really fun, really fierce Sonya piece. In rehearsal she urged them to get beasty by making them take off their shirts and encouraging blood and sweat and grunting and working with lots of body on body contact. This routine was all strength and energy and beauty, maternity pants and all. Loved every second of it, every time I watched it — and so did the judges who gave it a standing O. “I love this group of men,” Sonya said. Me, too. Especially Will, for fretting about his man-teat jiggle.

The show closed with a Top 20 routine to “Eyes” choreographed by Mia Michaels who has been gone for some time but is now back in the visage of a Diane Keaton/Lisa Rinna combo. Standing O from the judges! I loved the dancers suited up in their sleek, Spidey-esque black leotards and sunglasses, covering and uncovering the windows to their souls. “Welcome home, Mama, you’ve been missed,” Nigel said to Mama Mia. Yes. As long she’s choreographing and not at the judges’ table, I agree.

So. Now we (finally!) have our Top 20, and it’s a more diverse season than most, with three ballet/classically trained dancers representing, three ballroom dancers, an animator, a martial artist, and one person from the 1920’s. What do you think of the dancers who were chosen? Do you have any new favorites to rally behind? Was anyone else tickled to see Melanie Moore in the audience looking like a young French gentleman? How tall do you think Will is?

The show is off next week for July 4th (the day of Cat’s cast BBQ, during which she will make her famous Dancer Soup in the pool), but I’ll see you the following week, and in the meantime I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Read more:

‘SYTYCD’ Top 20 — exclusive portraits!

On the scene for the 200th episode

Episode Recaps

Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy, and the viewers at home crown America’s Favorite Dancer.
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